An evaluation of Kane County's morgue by an outside group of coroners and medical examiners became the latest bullet point in Coroner Rob Russell's quest for a better, safer workplace. Russell announced a successful accreditation process Thursday, but said the designation may have an expiration date if county officials can't find a way to upgrade his facility.
Russell promised he would seek accreditation for the coroner's office during his campaign for the position. But in securing a thumbs-up from the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, Russell's office became the first of its kind in Illinois to complete the multistage auditing process. Kane County now has one of only 20 coroner or medical examiners offices in the nation to receive accreditation from the 70-year-old professional organization.
"We've gone from laughing stock to preferred stock," Russell said of the achievement.
Russell's office was measured against 140 industry standards. It rated high in administration, investigations and forensics, but would have failed the facilities requirements, he said. In a twist of fate, a mold outbreak at Kane County's morgue triggered a temporary shared-space agreement with DuPage County. The outside auditing team agreed to base its rating off DuPage's morgue because that was the facility in use at the time of the site visit.
"They were very clear we never would have passed if we had not had the agreement with DuPage," said Kane County Coroner Compliance Manager Joseph Tomanek.
Russell said even with the mold being remediated there will remain problems with asbestos, improper ventilation, misaligned cabinets, an improperly placed area for surviving family to view bodies and more. That's why he'll continue lobbying the county board for new space.
"I'm not asking for the Taj Mahal, and I'm not saying we have to do this tomorrow," Russell said. "But let's formally put it on the five-year capital plan."
Asked why he thinks there's been resistance from county board Chairman Chris Lauzen to even talking about a new morgue, Russell said he didn't want to speculate. However, he pointed to the new shooting range the sheriff's office just received despite it costing nearly double the initial estimate.
"It's not that they don't have the money," Russell said. "It's just that it has to be appropriated properly."
He also challenged Lauzen or any county board member to show any example where he is overspending in his own budget.
"I have not yet heard any specifics of what they would like me to cut back on," Russell said.
They may change in less than 24 hours. Russell is set to present his proposed 2015 budget to the county board's Judicial and Public Safety Committee Friday.